Nebraska football fans looking forward to 2013 tend to think about individual players. But a better way to consider how Nebraska will fare next season is to think of positional units. By doing so, you can get an idea of the relative strengths of specific areas of the team, how they might work together and how depth might affect the performance of each unit.
So here is how Nebraska’s positions units stack up against each other, as the calendar moves toward July and the college football season draws ever closer.
The biggest area of weakness for Nebraska coming in to 2013 is the defensive line. Jason Ankrah will be a returning starter at defensive end, and the coaches are hoping that Thaddeus Randle will be able to overcome injuries and contribute at defensive tackle.
But other than that, the defensive line is a huge question mark. Much is expected of junior college transfer Randy Gregory at defensive end, but there is still some concern about him being academically cleared to play, according to Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity.
Sophomore defensive tackle Vincent Valentine has not impressed, and the remaining players on the line have not taken advantage of opportunities in previous seasons.
With Alex Henery and Brett Maher, Nebraska has had the luxury of dependable kickers for the past few years. Now Nebraska will need to rely on new faces at all the important positions on special teams.
Scholarship kicker Mauro Bondi looks to inherit the placekicking duties, while converted wide receiver Sam Foltz looks to be in pole position to be the starting punter.
Kick returning duties also seem to be up in the air. Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah did the bulk of the return work last season, so Nebraska will need to find new returners for 2013. Look for Jamal Turner and incoming freshman running back Terrell Newby to be first in line to take on some of the returning duties.
But that’s a lot of question marks for a hugely important positional unit.
One of Nebraska’s best returning players, Spencer Long, should help anchor NU’s offensive line next season.
But apart from Long, the returning talent on the offensive line is less than formidable. Nebraska will be breaking in a new center and will be hoping for incoming junior college transfer Matt Finnin to slot in right away at tackle.
But a number of question marks on the roster, particularly at tackle, make Nebraska’s offensive line an area of uncertainty.
Nebraska’s defensive backfield is in a curious position for 2013. There are clearly a number of talented athletes in the backfield, but there is no clear-cut starter for any position other than Ciante Evans at nickel.
So the defensive backfield might be the most difficult to power rank of all the positional units. The backfield could end up being really good, if the positions sort themselves out, starters emerge and chemistry can develop between them.
But until we see that chemistry on the field, it’s hard to assume it will happen.
Nebraska’s linebacking corps is littered with athleticism and speed. Unfortunately, it is also littered with youth.
The likely starting three at linebacker (David Santos, Zaire Anderson and Jared Afalava) have precious little starting experience. Trevor Roach is the most experienced in the linebacking corps, but he may not have the talent to break into the roster. And behind those guys are any number of mouthwatering potential talents…but who still remain unproven.
Usually, Nebraska football is synonymous with a bruising rushing attack. But Nebraska now has one of the best wide receiver corps in the conference, and perhaps in the nation. Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner will lead the line, with a number of talented younger receivers behind them.
The only question mark for Nebraska’s receivers might be at tight end, where Jake Long will be taking over for departing seniors Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed.
Coming in to 2013, Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah have the potential to be the most dynamic one-two backfield punch in the Big Ten.
And in an improvement from years gone by, Nebraska has solid depth to protect itself from the loss of either player. Fans should expect to see quite a bit of Imani Cross and at least some of Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor spelling Abdullah at I-back, while Martinez has what looks to be an exciting prospect in Tommy Armstrong waiting in the wings as a signal-caller.
Given what may be struggles defensively, Nebraska is likely to lean on its offense to win games. Thankfully for Nebraska fans, NU looks to have the offensive arsenal to do so.
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